I really just wanted to post today to use the word "mercurial" (changeable) in the title. I think it's one of about ten words that I've ever learned from a vocabulary list they gave us at school (another one is "draconian"--isn't it a great word?). I can even use it in a sentence: China's policy on anything remotely having to do with Tiblet is mercurial.
I've been wanting to go to Xiahe, a small town in Gansu province that's a microcosm of Tiblet: prayer wheels, native people, beautiful scenery. The only problem is that China is freaked out.
I'm used to China's paranoia, though. What bothers me is how no one knows what China's official stance on things is. I came by train to Lanzhou last night (and it was a very comfortable ride, by the way) and talked to several people about my plans. Lanzhou is only four or five hours away from Xiahe, so I thought talking to people who lived there would be helpful.
One guy said he thought foreigners weren't allowed, his friend said she thought they were allowed now. There was also a girl who works as a tour guide around the area who was convinced that foreigners are allowed in with no problem. My mom, with magic powers for finding things out, told me that I'd need a permit.
Then I got to Lanzhou this morning and decided to ask the people at the Public Security Bureau. They said, after talking among themselves, that they thought foreigners weren't allowed. I tried to bring up the idea of a permit, but I don't know how to say that in Chinese and I don't think they understood me in English. I asked them what would happen if I bought a bus ticket to Xiahe anyway. They said they didn't know.
All the conflicting views aren't because everyone is wrong; they're because everyone is right. At some point since the Tibletan riots, things have been closed down, tentatively reopened, reopened further, and probably closed some more.
I decided that things were sufficiently unknown for me to try to go to Xiahe. I came to the bus station and finally got a definitive answer on China's atittude today: she said she couldn't sell me a ticket because I'm a foreigner.
So now I'm going straight to Xi'an tonight if I can buy a ticket. And 111 degrees gives a new definition for Mercurial China. I can't believe I made it through that kind of weather in Turpan without my skin peeling again.